Rainbow's End Youth Center (REYS) executive director Joel Hughes says that research shows that students who start school with a positive perspective are more likely to have success throughout the year. For those distracted by the fact that they do not have a normal backpack or access to school supplies like the rest of their peers seem to, that can be an automatic setback. To counter that barrier and help area students to start each school year on a good note, REYS will once again host its annual Backpacks to School donation drive this summer.
The goal of the program is to help students by providing an age-appropriate backpack and school supplies at no cost. A record-breaking 622 backpacks were distributed to students in kindergarten through 12th grade in 2017, and Hughes is anticipating another busy year for Backpacks to School. Families may sign up at http://www.reys.org by clicking on the Events tab and completing the "Request a Backpack" form. REYS staff members will then schedule an individual appointment and pickup time for each family. Distribution will take place beginning on Monday, Aug. 13, at REYS, 105 Fairview St., Mount Joy.
Area residents are encouraged to get involved by donating new backpacks, as well as school supplies that will be included in each backpack to correspond to the grade level. The following items are needed: three-inch binders, folders, pencils, pens, scissors, two-pocket folders, index cards, markers, rulers, crayons, colored pencils, composition notebooks, graph paper, calculators, and highlighters. The items may be dropped off at REYS through Aug. 7. Financial donations are also welcome and will be used for staff members to purchase backpacks and supplies in bulk.
New for this year will be a Packing Party in the REYS gymnasium on Tuesday, Aug. 7, which will allow individuals and groups that have donated toward the project to be a part of helping to pack the backpacks with supplies and organize them for pickup. More details about that event will be released closer to the date.
According to Hughes, nearly 40 percent of students in the Donegal School District qualify for free and reduced lunches. "Some of these students are in poverty situations, and others are in families that are just barely getting by," Hughes shared. He went on to explain that oftentimes simply having a new backpack can help students to reframe their situations and how they view themselves amidst their peer group.
While the majority of the students who utilize Backpacks to School live in the Donegal School District, REYS also works with guidance counselors and social workers from the nearby Manheim Central School District. Additional recipients come from the Hempfield, Elizabethtown, and Columbia Borough school districts.
The unique nature of Backpacks to School and its rapid success earned widespread recognition this spring when the program was named a finalist in the 2018 Nonprofit Innovation Awards. Hughes said that scheduling private appointment times is different from typical donation drives because it allows for privacy and gives students the chance to pick out the backpack of their choice. REYS staff members also use that time to share with the family about the free after-school programs available at the youth center. "(Backpacks to School) is a major time for new students to learn that the center is here," noted Hughes.
For more information about REYS and the Backpacks to School program, interested individuals may call 717-653-9511 or visit https://reys.org.